The Terry Law Firm has been representing injured clients in Hamblen, Greene, and Hawkins counties and throughout East Tennessee for more than five decades. Our skilled Morristown premises liability attorneys have the experience and the resources to build a strong case for full compensation for your injures.
During a free consultation, a lawyer can explain your legal rights and options. Call us at (423) 586-5800 or contact us online to get started.
What Is Premises Liability?
Premises liability is an area of personal injury law that deals with harm caused by unsafe or defective property conditions, such as defective stairs. Those who own, occupy, or lease property in Tennessee have a legal duty to use reasonable care to prevent injuries to people visiting the property.
This duty is not absolute, however. A property owner or operator is not obligated to guarantee a guest’s safety. Their liability for a guest’s injury is dependent upon whether they were negligent in maintaining the property.
Common situations that give rise to premises liability claims include:
Because premises liability law encompass such a wide range of accidents, the injuries that clients suffer can vary greatly, from bumps and bruises to broken bones to head trauma to back injuries and even death.
If you believe you may have a premises liability claim, do not wait to speak with an attorney. Tennessee’s short statute of limitations, or time limit, on these types of claims makes it crucial to receive competent and timely legal advice. Your choice in legal representation matters. Schedule a free case review today with a knowledgeable Morristown premises liability lawyer from The Terry Law Firm.
Proving a Premises Liability Claim in Morristown, TN
The mere fact that an injury occurred on private property does not mean the owner is legally responsible. To successfully bring a premises liability claim against a property owner in Tennessee, the injured guest must prove the following:
- The person who owns, occupies, or leases the property was negligent in the use of the property.
- The guest was harmed on the property as a result of the owner’s negligence.
- The guest’s negligence contributed to the injury less than the owner’s negligence.
Each one of these factors is broken down in greater detail below.
Duty of Care and Negligence
The owner, occupier, or leasor of a property has a duty to use ordinary care, defined as the care that an ordinarily careful person would use to avoid injury to themselves or others under the same or similar circumstances. Failure to use ordinary care is negligence.
However, the degree of the duty of care that the owner or manager owes the property guest depends on whether the guest is an invitee, a licensee, or an illegal trespasser.
- An invitee is somebody who enters the property to conduct business, or for some other activity that is mutually beneficial to both parties. Visitors to stores and restaurants, as well as workers, are considered invitees.
- A licensee has the express or implied consent of the owner to enter the property. Social guests, such as friends and family, are examples of licensees.
- A trespasser does not have permission to enter the property.
A property owner owes each type of guest a certain duty of care. Under most circumstances, an invitee is owed a greater duty of care than a licensee, while a trespasser is owed no duty of care. One possible exception is children who trespass on the property and may be harmed by a dangerous condition (such as an unfenced swimming pool).
Injury Caused by Dangerous Condition
Practically speaking, a property owner’s duty of care means ensuring the property is free of dangers or defects that could be reasonably expected to cause harm to others. Numerous safety hazards potentially fall under premises liability law, such as:
- Improper safety measures, like lack of signage or security guards
- Indoor and outdoor surfaces that are made slippery by water, ice, or spills (leading to a slip and fall)
- Poor lighting in parking lots
- Lack of gating around swimming pools
- Uneven walkways
Establishing property owner liability also requires showing that he or she had actual or constructive knowledge of the defect.
- Actual knowledge of a defect is direct and clear knowledge that a dangerous condition exists. For example, if an owner observed a tripping hazard on the property, or was previously told about the hazard, and did nothing, he or she could be held liable for any injuries that result from the hazard.
- Constructive knowledge is based on the concept that the owner should have known a defect existed through the exercise of reasonable care. A guest may prove that a property owner had constructive notice of a dangerous condition by showing a pattern of conduct, a recurring incident, or a general or continuing condition.
Tennessee and Comparative Fault
According to Tennessee’s comparative negligence law, plaintiffs may recover damages for premises liability so long as their negligence remains less than the defendant’s negligence. This is known as the “50 percent rule.”
In other words, you can still recover money for injuries if you are less than 50 percent at fault for your own accident. If you are 50 percent or more at fault for the accident, you may be unable to recover damages.
In cases where the plaintiff is found to be partially liable for his or her injuries — but no more than 49 percent — the damage award is reduced in proportion to his or her fault. For example, if a plaintiff slips and falls on a defendant’s property but is found to be 25 percent at fault, the damages award would be reduced by 25 percent. So if $100,000 in damages was awarded, that would be reduced by 25 percent to $75,000.
An injured person may be found at fault — in part or in full — for his or her injuries due to being intoxicated, texting and not paying attention, entering a restricted area, wearing inappropriate footwear, and other actions. At the same time, since comparative negligence can mitigate an owner’s liability for a guest’s injury, it might be falsely asserted as a defense strategy.
We Understand the Responsibilities of Morristown Property Owners and Managers
tThe many factors that affect premises liability underscore the importance of seeking experienced legal help after an accident. At The Terry Law Firm, our personal injury lawyers have a deep understanding of Tennessee premises liability based on more than 50 years of practice. We will investigate your case and aggressively fight for compensation from all possible parties. Our case results include several large verdicts and settlements for victims of premises liability.
Premises Liability and Crime Victims in Morristown
Although premises liability claims usually deal with an owner’s negligence for unintentional injuries that occur on their property, a claim may also be brought against a property owner when somebody is the victim of a crime — such as assault, murder, robbery, or rape — on the premises.
Property owners generally have a duty to take reasonable measures to protect their customers from foreseeable criminal acts. In determining the reasonable foreseeability of crimes on their premises, owners should take into account the general crime rate and previous instances of similar crimes on or near the property. The courts, however, also consider whether increased security would pose an onerous burden — economic or otherwise — upon the owner.
If you are the victim of a crime on somebody else’s property, the owner may be held civilly liable for a lack of security measures that include:
- Guard service
- Surveillance cameras
As with other types of premises liability claims, several factors come into play when determining fault, including the foreseeability of the incident, the guest’s status, and the victim’s own degree of negligence.
Sometimes, an owner takes measures to protect guests in a high-crime area, such as hiring a security company. In this case, a negligent security company might be liable for crimes that occur on the property.
Crime victims who are able to prove a premises liability claim may be entitled to damages that include medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Note that a civil case for premises liability is handled separately from a criminal case against the crime’s perpetrator.
Premises Liability Statute of Limitations in Tennessee
Tennessee premises liability injury claims must be filed within one year after the incident occurred. Premises liability wrongful death claims also have a one-year statute of limitations, but the clock starts ticking when the death occurs — not when the accident occurs.
A premises liability victim who does not file a claim within one year may be unable to seek compensation of any kind. At The Terry Law Firm, we recommend talking to a knowledgeable premises liability attorney as soon as possible. The longer you wait to seek legal help, the more difficult it will be to secure critical evidence and build a strong case.
How Our Premises Liability Lawyers in Morristown Can Help
Were you injured on somebody else’s property? You may be hesitant to file a lawsuit, especially if you know the property owner. Keep in mind, though, that you will be making a claim against their insurance company — not against the individual. Property owners have liability insurance to protect them from injuries sustained by visitors.
You should not be forced to pay out of pocket for an injury that wasn’t your fault. Medical bills and lost wages can add up quickly, leaving you no other option than filing a premises liability claim. But dealing with an insurance company can add to your difficulties. The insurance adjuster might offer a low settlement, deny your claim, or draw out the claim beyond the statute of limitations, leaving you with little or no legal options.
The Terry Law Firm is prepared to help you aggressively fight for the compensation you need to make a fast and full recovery. Since 1960, our law firm has been dedicated to defending the injured. We offer a combination of vigorous advocacy, compassionate service, personal attention, and strong case results. As a small-town firm with big-city know-how, we take the time to truly understand you and your case and devise a unique legal plan.
To speak with a trusted premises liability lawyer in Morristown, call (423) 586-5800 or send us a message online.